Launching and sustaining a career as a professional classical singer
Nadine Mortimer-Smith will be speaking at 'The Singing Entrepreneur Forum: Redefining Success' at London's Riverside Studios on August 3 and 4. This is a two-day event for singers inspiring success, survival, employability and solvency in the classical music industry. It is run by Darren Abrahams and Arlene Rolph: Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival.
Music is so close to the soul that you can easily forget that you are a product and music is a business. Starting out as a student, it seems that there is nothing more important than the voice. Finding the right teacher is imperative! Should I be in college, or could I work and study privately? How do I raise funds to support myself? What will my repertoire be and what voice type am I? While you are a student, most of these decisions will be made by someone else. You put your trust and hopes in their knowledge.
When college is over and you are let out into the big wide world, you face several decisions - whether to go and do a postgrad/evening course, work in a chorus, start pitching yourself for smaller roles with big companies or lead roles with smaller companies. The transition from student to singer begins at this point.
I began my path on a trading floor in the City, and doing an evening course, City Opera at the City Lit. The tutor, Peter Crockford, thought I might have something. Peter told me I needed two years solid study and as much experience as possible.
I decided to leave my job and work as an opera singer and study simultaneously, thereby identifying any areas of technique that still needed to be improved. I took a higher-level course, and soon realised that they were expecting a singer, not just a student. Eight months in, they still didn’t know what to do with me. I realised in that moment that I needed to know what to do with myself. This was my first step in the transition from student to singer.
New questions arose: What market do I belong in? What is my unique selling point? What are my interests, and are they the same as my skills? Am I ready? The singer wants to be on stage as much as possible, soaking up every morsel of experience. The truths start to reveal themselves, and you begin to learn what works for you and how to manage and balance your energies.
I remember one day I literally ran off one stage in the evening, took a train to another city for an audition, then back on the train straight to another stage and another show! I soon recognised that dispersing my energy in this way would take away the gift that I had been working so hard to develop, and began to look for greater balance.
Attending auditions is the worst part of the singer stage, as unless you know exactly where you are going there is a tendency to look for approval from everyone! 'Like me please' is not attractive. It is too easy to float into the audition hoping to take something from it rather than offer something to it.
For me this was the turning point from singer to artist. I learned that I couldn’t communicate the truth of a character until I knew myself on a deeper level. This was where the joy began to seep into my work.
I wanted more. The voice alone was no longer enough - the hunger to be the vessel for the music, the channel for the composer and the characters, allowing their energies to work through me so that I could communicate with the audience. What is my relationship to everyone on stage? What was my character’s life like before the start of the piece? How exhilarating! I had something to say, something to give, something to share. And then more questions: What is my voice telling me to sing? Am I willing to listen?
I began to put together a team, who would aid my work based on my new thinking. They became my friends and mentors, and they believed in me as I did in them. My role as an artist was changing and I would be offered work without audition and asked to create roles in adventurous new works. I loved it!
I suppose where I have landed is the space between artist and entrepreneur, the next stage of my development.
Part of my contribution has been to start Opera in Colour, a company that represents artists of all backgrounds, nurturing their talent through a mentoring system.
I am blessed to be an opera artist and recognise that my relationships with my mentors, coaches, peers, teachers and audience will flourish if I stay true to myself, my voice and the music.
I will be speaking on Friday August 3 at the Tête à Tête Festival at the Riverside Opera Studio as part of the The Singer Entrepreneur Forum (“TSE”) ran by Darren Abrahams and Arlene Rolph. This Forum will include many other topics and discussion around the business of singing.
Nadine Mortimer-Smith is a lyric soprano and inspirational mentor, whose operatic work has recently included three world premieres, namely an exciting film collaboration with Yinka Shonibare, creating roles for Nigel Osborne's opera Naciketa (http://www.operacircus.co.uk/wp/index.php) and Steven Kilpatrick's opera Flightpaths. She has also sung the parts of Dido (Dido and Aeneas), Mimì (La Bohème), Maria Stuarda, Cio Cio San, Kate Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) and Countess (Le Nozze di Figaro). She most recently performed and recorded works by Copland, Harbison and Previn.